Belgian Catholic offices raided in sex abuse probe

Image caption,
Officials said they were searching for evidence of possible abuse

Belgian authorities have raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church during an investigation into child sex abuse claims.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutors' office confirmed that the palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels had been sealed off.

Police also raided the home of retired Archbishop Godfried Danneels.

Belgium is one of several countries in which a stream of abuse claims have shaken the Church.

Brussels prosecutors were looking for material relating to allegations of sex abuse, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office said.

"This is a case that the Brussels prosecutors' office received recently, containing a statement of facts in relation to alleged sexual abuse of minors by a number of people within the Church," said Jean-Marc Meilleur.

"The object of the searches is to verify the declaration and eventually gather evidence about these declarations."

Tapping on boards

At the home of Archbishop Danneels in Mechelen, just north of Brussels, police did not question the cleric but took away his computer, according to his spokesman, Hans Geybels.

Mr Geybels said police had also asked the archbishop to accompany them to the cathedral in Mechelen because they had heard that there might be files there.

He said the officers were tapping on boards and looking for hidden spaces but, as far as he was aware, they had not found anything.

He said Cardinal Danneels was co-operating fully: "The cardinal believes justice must run its normal course. He has nothing against that."

Separately, the offices of an independent commission set up to look into cases of sexual abuse were also raided.

An inquiry into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Belgium has been running for several years.

In April, the then-bishop of the city of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy earlier in his career.

At the time, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard said the move showed that the Church wanted to "resolutely turn a page on a very painful" topic.

Papal pledge

In recent months, allegations of abuse levelled against Catholic priests have surfaced in many countries.

There have also been accusations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal with cases openly or properly.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy, and of not taking strong enough steps against abusers when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active pope yet in confronting abuse.

The Pope pledged in April to "bring to justice" Church officials responsible for abuse.

The Vatican also made it explicit that sex abuse cases should be reported to police if required by law.

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